Edited By Josefa Ros Velasco
6 Can Melancholy Be Heroic? Walter Benjamin and the Vicissitudes of Melancholy (Shannon Hayes (Tennessee State University))
6 Can Melancholy Be Heroic? Walter Benjamin and the Vicissitudes of Melancholy
Tennessee State University
In this chapter, I explore the vicissitudes of melancholy in the works of 20th-century German intellectual and critical theorist Walter Benjamin. Melancholy is a central affect woven throughout his texts. It connotes a depressed mood, a feeling of withdrawal, alienation, passivity, inertia. Despite the long-standing association of melancholy with creative, poetic activity, melancholic depression remains chastized as a nonpolitical mode of existence associated with stagnancy, paralysis, and a willful alienation. If we follow the insights of Marxist critical theory, and it remains true that, under capitalism, we are already dismembered and distanced in our strategic relations, then melancholy is a mood that unmasks our present situation. In the fatigue and weariness of the melancholic body, there is an insight into the decay and fragmentation that characterizes social existence. In the melancholic, attention to destruction is a spirit of resistance. It is a mood capable of revealing the eschatological structure of historical existence—an insight which can transform political struggles—and it has the potential to reconcile the tensions necessary for political struggles. In other words, melancholy bears political potential, and it can be put to work for both emancipatory and reactionary political projects.
This chapter aims to illuminate the differences between a nihilistic left-wing melancholy and an emancipatory heroic melancholy. The difference between these types has to do with the object toward which...
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